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Spring Game Roundup: As Expected Defense Dominates

Just as we expected it sounds like the defense dominated the spring game last night at the Rose Bowl. From the LA Times:

"On the bright side, I think the first-team defense is growing fast," Neuheisel said. "They run like a Pac-10 team. They fly around like a Pac-10 team." [...]

Kevin Prince may well be the Bruins' starting quarterback; Neuheisel said an official decision probably would be made this week. But Prince also missed on his first six passes, one of which was intercepted by cornerback Alterraun Verner.

Not that anyone else was doing much better. The offense had 50 yards in the first 44 plays, which included three lost fumbles, one interception and three sacks.

By the end of the scrimmage things were smoother, with Prince finishing 11 for 24 for 134 yards with one touchdown. Richard Brehaut, who enrolled early to participate in spring practice, was seven for 14 for 47 yards with a touchdown.

"I thought they were a little ragged to begin with," offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. "They are young. Initially, I thought the balls were being shotputted. We sharpened up after a while."

The mediocre numbers from offense should be hardly surprising to anyone here for number of factors we have been pointing to all spring. First, Kevin Prince is still getting used to the work load of a defacto starting QB after sitting out for almost two years. This will take time and patience on the part of everyone. Second, our OL right now is still a patchwork. It was especially a patchwork last night given all the injuries and it will continue to evolve until we get bodies this coming summer. Third, in addition to OL we had key offensive players such as Ramirez, Moya and Paulsen missing from the lineup. Fourth, the offense usually run vanilla formations during these scrimmages which the defense are already well prepared for. So given all those factors it shouldn't have been a shock to see the offense struggle.

Still the fact that Prince bounced back a little after his first 6 straight completions have to be encourage. And it sounds like Chow threw the gautlet down for his young QB:

"Prince has a real good handle on what we're doing," Chow said. "He understands what we're trying to get done. He's very accurate. I thought he started real slow. Maybe the whole thing was too big for him. When he came out, I told him, `If this is too big for you, we'll call off the game.' He got mad at me and started playing better."

Prince responded to Chow's challenge by getting fired up and playing much better rest of the way:

"It's kind of insulting (what Chow said), and it's obvious nobody wants to go out there and play like I did the first few series," Prince said. "It happens sometimes. We got off to a slow start. I feel like we got into a rhythm after a while and the offense started picking up."

 Apparently one of the reason Prince and his team-mates picked up their rhtyhm was due to Chow experimenting with spread formation:

Perhaps something to take away from the scrimmage was a bit of an extended experiment in the spread. With the pro-style scheme sputtering, I was wondering when offensive coordinator Norm Chow might utilize a spread more. A spread is far easier to plug into than a pro-style offense – less reads, more reaction. Without, say, superior talent, it can make an offense more effective in a shorter time by spreading out the offense and trying to get its more effective players in space and isolated. The last few series Saturday night were done mostly from a spread, predominantly utilizing a three-wide, double-tight, shot-gun formation, and Prince looked very comfortable, being able to quickly find receivers. He got his best protection of the night and was able to get rid of the ball well before any pressure got to him.

That was from Tracy Pierson's spring game review over at Bruin Report Online(which was posted as a non premium article at the time I was blogging). Tracy also had the following observations on the running backs:

The running backs looked okay, with starter Christian Ramirez mot participating, the coaching staff still wanting to be safe with his strained hamstring. The starter was Derrick Coleman, who ran for 14 yards on 7 carries, and didn’t look like he had much explosion or ability to break tackles. Milton Knox led all rushers with 44 yards on 8 carries, and showed some shiftiness, even though he was going against the #2 and #3 defense most of the time. Aundre Dean had 33 yards on five carries, and popped a nice run for 15 yards. Raymond Carter had 33 yards on 9 carries, and the biggest run of the night when he exploded through the middle for a gain of 18 before he was cut down by E.J. Woods. Johnathan Franklin, who got the #2 reps, had 11 yards on five carries and a four-yard touchdown run.

Hmm. That's the second straight scrimmage during which Knox and Dean have put up decent numbers. We will see if that effects the rotation heading into summer. Again, when it comes down to it these RBs will earn PT if they get the pass blocking schemes down in Chow's system. You can read Tracy's rest of review here.

Over all, I am glad that no one got knicked up after the scrimmage. We are heading into this summer with some bumps and bruises but no devastating injuries like we suffered last year to Cowan and Olson. I am grateful for that. Now we can look forward to the arrival of the new recruits this summer and see how they mesh with rest of the team. From what I have read and heard so far, I am still hopeful for incremental improvement this season that will eventually lead us to where UCLA needs to be as one of the best football programs in the West Coast.